So, this is it – the final blog. And if I don’t start it pronto, two things are likely to happen. First, the opportunity for you to be persuaded by my chit-chat and pictures to see the win-win situation of stepping back from your mainstream career and ‘volunteering’ for a short but unforgettable time in a country such as Myanmar will have gone forever. Second, with Christmas and the New Year upon us, I will have neither the time, attention span, or level of sobriety required to put fingers to keyboard to write anything remotely sensible, to which you may say ‘what’s new’. But one thing that will hopefully never happen in my life is forgetting my time here. From the moment I flew over the gleaming gold Shwedagon pagoda for the first time (right), experienced the betel-chewing taxi-driver weaving and dodging his way through traffic and through open door or window expelling the deep-red residue of his munching onto anything alongside, and even in the mid-afternoon personally wishing I hadn’t travelled in jeans and shirt as the turkey-roasting I received in the car and the subsequent walk to my flat meant what was already an exhausting 36-hour trip felt equivalent to an energy-sapping marathon in Aaron pullover and tweed jacket; I realised coming to Myanmar post-NHS career was for me definitely the right decision to have made. But unlike a successful Netflix box-set where increasing viewing numbers prompt plans for a second series, this will never happen with this blog for another couple of valid reasons. First, I reckon my reader stats don’t breach the double figure barrier which is of course a pre-requisite and secondly, and most importantly, I’m getting seriously ancient now and have spent far too long away from home and family. So, this really is the curtain-call of my blogs and their mixture of rambling verbose intros, clips of the serious stuff describing what I do both fascinating and sometimes scary, and my personal mantra for life-fulfilment which includes time spent out in a place such as this. And as such, I want to show you some of the benefits of working in a country such as Myanmar outside of the life-developing rewards I’ve rabbited on about so often. The good news for those of you who have assiduously read these (technically) weekly blogs is that the finale has arrived; the bad news is that you are now two years older and a Tolstoy three volume tome might have been better value.
Why show you just the good times of life here? Because we all have to examine the reasons we volunteer as few of us are completely selfless, altruistic, and super-dedicated: certainly, much as I like friends, family, and especially ex-colleagues back home to think this, in my heart of hearts I know this is not the whole truth as I too like many of you have a genetic code which is blueprinted for a touch of adventure. And as if to provide evidential proof of this, I can freely admit that the friends that I have met and places I have been have definitely filled the credit earnings side of the balance sheet in my time here and counter the time sweating away in clinics and doing everything in my limited ability to alleviate the plight of those around me. And this would be the case for you if you were to volunteer. They may look like weekend beer-swilling hedonistic youngsters (and are with a few exceptions), but they are also a truly dedicated bunch to the person in what they do, the causes they believe in, and their own personal missions, and without exception what has been good for them has been even better for Myanmar (left). And only half of them are in the healthcare profession. So, if you’re into mini-morals there are a couple you can make with all this extended diatribe. First, is that the best time of your life may result from an uncertain step into the dark. Next up, is that it doesn’t matter what your age, area of expertise, or experience, you can always bring something that slots into the charity’s requirements and, like a computer game, take it up to a new level. And just as an addendum, no-one is ever fully prepared for work here and better to come while you can and not to wait to gain more experience when maybe you can’t because life has anchored you back home. The best bit is usually you can add on a couple of months to your ‘working for a charity abroad’ when in fact you’re exploring some part of South East Asia for a last irresponsible holiday of time away from your career, before returning to the escalator of life back home: and no one will ever be the wiser unless you admit it on your CV!
For me, giving up on my perfect consultant job was not too difficult but to this day, I still miss the patients. Importantly, years of earning had made the bank balance reasonably healthy and the manager a happy-chappy, but this may well present a tougher challenge and potential financial whammy for youngsters like many of you readers as having a couple of zeros on the income side of the credit line bites into savings pretty-quick and means you do need to be prepared! On the plus side, the accommodation here is usually free if you don’t mind sharing and if not too diet fussy, the ‘Myanmar-special offer’ of Shan noodles washed down with a Myanmar beer and if required a nicotine fix can all be purchased for an exorbitant and safe-cracking £2. So, since we’re on mini-morals here, in true boy-scouting fashion, this paragraph’s is to ‘be prepared’ with a bit of ready dosh to hand because although living is dead-cheap, travelling is a tad pricier. And if you have one to hand, dragging along a willing or uncertain partner does allow you to share the wonderful memories you will undoubtedly have with someone you might wake up next to every day and that would be a worthy cherry on top of a perfectly iced cake (not possible or desirable for all of course).
So, this last blog is not me attempting to fire sound-bites in your direction to prompt you to drop what you’re doing and in the spirit of Kitchener’s call, to volunteer for ‘king and country’, but just to maybe consider the possibilities of working here (or elsewhere) and shoot off an e-mail or pick up the phone to have a chat to Green Shoots Foundation. In addition, I did promise to show you some piccies of my last ‘well done old-chap’ weekend reward to myself for the two years I’ve spent in Myanmar working for Medical Action Myanmar. So, irrespective of whether you are a sun goddess, a reclusive poet, or an all-action biker or snorkeller, everyone can find what they want on the perfect and unspoilt beaches of Myanmar (above, left and centre). With a ‘De-Caprio Beach’ to ourselves, this was truly a perfect way for me to bow out of my time in Myanmar: with friends and a beer (above, right). Also, I thought I would slip in some of the other chocolate box snaps of the rest of the country which is a truly beautiful and tempt-anyone-out place to be, and here are a few north of Yangon just to get cracking with: the Bagan temples; the Lake Inle fishermen; the hills around Kalaw, and Mandalay fort (below). Travelling south you have Hpa Pan with its temple-topped hills and Mawlamyine with its colonial history and harmonious religious mix (right).
Be warned the wine is terrible, the spirits dirt cheap but locally produced and carry a serious health warning, cheese and muesli the equivalent of a pack of 12 Fosters XXX, and the risk of acquiring intestinal germs which speed transition guaranteed. But you will have the time of your lives. So, good luck to all of you and I do hope these blogs have helped some of you make up your mind!